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Gulf Coast Week: Dec. 16

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  • | 9:44 a.m. December 16, 2011
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Council selects leader
Sharon Hillstrom has been named executive director of the Manatee Economic Development Council, a position she has held on interim basis since the summer.

Hillstrom replaces Eric Basinger, who resigned in August. Hillstrom was previously the EDC's associate director, where she worked closely with Basinger on management of the agency's day-to-day operations. A native of Chicago, Hillstrom has lived in Manatee County for 20 years.

In addition to its leadership announcement, the EDC says it's finalizing plans to become an independent entity at the start of 2012, according to board chair Jerry Marlar. The organization is currently a division of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

Officials approve project
Sarasota County commissioners approved a rezoning application for what could be a 430-home community in the southern edge of the county.

The development, Cedar Ridge, is part of the Blackburn Creek project overseen by Lakewood Ranch-based developer Neal Communities. Blackburn Creek, on 780 acres near Center Road and North River Road, just outside North Port, is proposed as at least 1,700 homes and 150,000 square feet of office space.

Cedar Ridge, on 221 acres, was the last part of the project that hadn't received rezoning approval from commissioners.

Foundation enhances role
The Van Wezel Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in downtown Sarasota, is in talks with city officials to have a larger role in the theater.

The city manages the 1,736-seat hall, and the foundation is run independently. But city officials have expressed concerns about subsidizing the Van Wezel.

One option being discussed would have the city lease the Van Wezel to the foundation, which would handle expenses and fundraising. City commissioners and the foundation's board of directors would have to approve any changes.

Tampa Bay

Tribune layoffs commence
The Tampa Tribune will eliminate the positions of 165 of its employees, representing a 16% reduction to its work force, the Tampa-based publication says.

In an article at, the Tribune says it will “focus more on reaching news readers with more innovative digital and mobile methods,” reducing the operations of its print product.

Roughly 80% of those employees being let go were notified on Monday, the Tribune says. All other eliminations will take place in the first quarter of next year, after which point the Tampa Tribune will have roughly 675 employees remaining on staff.

Cryo-Cell plans buyback
On Dec. 1, Cryo-Cell International Inc.'s board of directors approved the purchase of up to 1 million shares of the Oldsmar-headquartered stem cell preservation company's stock, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The authorization comes after the firm bought back 383,617 shares of its stock for $1.80 per share Dec. 7 in a private negotiation.

City of Tampa sells bonds
The city of Tampa will attempt to sell $20 million worth of municipal bonds Dec. 15, says the city's CFO, Sonya Little.

Proceeds from the sale will be used to pay pending workers' compensation claims. Doing so will save the city $4.5 million, Little says. “This sale offers the opportunity to settle workers' compensation claims in a way that is beneficial to the claimant and the city,” she says.

The city expects demand to meet the supply of bonds being sold.


Chico's wins subsidies
Lee County and the State of Florida awarded Chico's FAS nearly $3.3 million in subsidies to assist the women's retailer's expansion of its corporate headquarters in Fort Myers.

The company employs 1,250 people in Fort Myers and plans to add another 150 jobs. The expansion is projected to cost Chico's $25 million over the next 18 months and another $6 million to $10 million in 2013 and 2014.

Chico's operates 1,260 stores under the Chico's, White House | Black Market and Soma Intimates brands. It also recently acquired Boston Proper, an online merchant of women's fashions.

Chico's reported net income of $26.5 million on net sales of $539 million in the third quarter. The company's stock is publicly traded (symbol, CHS; recent price, $11).

ASG buys Atempo
Naples-based ASG Software Solutions acquired data-protection firm Atempo of Palo Alto, Calif. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Atempo has 13 offices and 4,500 business customers in data-intensive industries such as manufacturing, media and health care. Besides data protection, Atempo provides backup and archiving services.

Privately held ASG provides software management to large companies with complex information-technology requirements. ASG reported $253 million in revenues in 2010.

Hotel revenues rise
Revenues at hotels and motels in Lee County rose 16% in October compared with the same month a year ago, according to the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Revenue per available room, an important gauge of hotel finances that combines occupancy and average room rates, rose to $48.22 in October compared with $41.53 in October 2010.

The occupancy rate at Lee County hotels in October rose 6.3% to 46.5% and the average daily rate increased 9.3% to $103.80. October is traditionally one of the slowest months of the year for tourism because of tropical weather and children have returned to school.


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